Published with permission from the guide book:
Skinny Skis and Snowshoes – Guide to Winter Trails in Colorado’s Upper Arkansas Valley by Nate Porter and Nathan Ward.
This guidebook gives detailed information on 25 of the best backcountry ski and snowshoe routes in the Upper Arkansas Valley, with trails for every ability level. If you count all the options presented for each trail, the actual number of routes is closer to 60 without even counting the individual trails at the Nordic centers – that is a lot of skiing. If you’re insatiable and need more, look at the sections titled: Other Areas to Explore. Be insatiable.
Monarch Park offers mellow terrain on Monarch Pass for skiers and snowshoers. This route follows a road parallel to the South Arkansas River that then curves up to the current Monarch Pass Road. Even in low snow years, you’ll find good snow at Monarch Park. On the way back to the car, look up for great views of the angular Mount Aetna (13,746 ft.) and Taylor Mountain (13,651 ft.).
Trailhead Access: From the intersection of Highways 50 and 285 in Poncha Springs, drive west on US 50 for 15.5 miles up Monarch Pass. Look for the Monarch Park Campground sign on the left. There is usually plowed parking on the left, but sometimes only a few spaces.
Location: Monarch Pass
Distance: 5.7 Miles – Out & Back with Small Loop
Travel Time: 1.5 – 2.5 Hours
Type of Trail: Road
Aerobic Level: Moderate – Altitude
Technical Difficulty: Ski – Intermediate; Shoe – Novice
Avalanche Danger: Minimal – only during periods of high hazard.
Elevation in Feet: Low Point 10,360, High Point 11,312, Climbs/Descends 983
Land Status: USFS
Maps: Trails Illustrated #130, #139; USGS Garfield, Pahlone
Notes: You will encounter snowmobiles, so watch out for them. Luckily, this means the surface is packed and smooth.
Novice Option: Ski out-and-back to Mile 2.6.
1.0 Ski down the small hill and along the road. (38°31.71N, 106°19.54W).
0.1 Stay to the right.
0.3 Cross the South Arkansas River and stay right.
0.5 Turn left on the road FSR 231A.
0.6 Stay right at this intersection. After 40 yards or so, go around the gate that blocks the road, though it may be covered by snow. Continue up the low angle road through the trees.
1.9 Take the gradual road to the right, the steep uphill track to the left leads to the top of the pass (38°30.26N, 106°19.49W).
2.0 Intersection with the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). Take the CDT left – look for blue diamonds on the trees that mark the trail (38°30.24N, 106°19.58W). Parallel the two small creeks, always keeping them on your right – there may be a snowmobile trail, or not.
2.2 Climb a short, steep hill. Beginner skiers may want to walk up it. Otherwise, sidestep or use herring bone steps to surmount this obstacle. At the top of the hill, turn right on a narrow road toward US 50. There is no sign at this intersection (38° 30.09N, 106° 19.70W).
2.5 Another road comes in from the left; stay right.
2.6 Reach the highway and the turnaround spot (38° 30.03N, 106° 19.92W). Turn around and ski back to the top of the steep hill.
3.0 At the top of the hill (38° 30.09N, 106° 19.70W) you have the choice of either turning left down the hill for an easier out and back route, or turning right through the trees for the more challenging loop route to the top of the pass. This trail description follows the route to the top of the pass. Ski the flattish path through the trees to a small clearing.
3.1 Enter this clearing (38° 30.05N, 106° 19.55W) and stay slightly uphill to your right where you’ll intersect another path that is almost always kicked in by downhill skiers. Go left here to loop back to the road you came up, or turn right to continue to the top. The description and mileages given from here assume that you’re going to the top. Continue up the trail, which is steep in spots and more suited to skis with skins or snowshoes.
3.4 Top of the trail and top of Monarch Pass (38° 29.84N, 106° 19.54W). Turn around here after a snack and a drink. Enjoy the downhill and watch out for rocks, stumps and other skiers. The downhill path can be steep, fast and adrenaline-packed on skinny skis.
3.9 Turn right on the road – this is the end of the loop. Travel back along the flat road to the trailhead.
5.1 Stay left.
5.4 Stay left and cross the creek.
5.7 Back at the trailhead. Time for a beer in Salida.
Backcountry travel is a physically strenuous activity with many risks and dangers. Hazards, natural or manmade, whether noted in this book or not, can be encountered at any time, under any situation. As a backcountry traveler we assume you know your personal abilities, limitations and have a comprehensive background in avalanche safety.
This book represents nothing more than a guide to routes and is not meant to replace your common sense, your ability to navigate in the wilderness or your ability to travel in the backcountry safely.
The mileages, routes and waypoints listed in this text are only suggestions. There may be variances and changes, you may get lost. We recommend that everyone use a global positioning system and topographical map to navigate.
Most routes in this text are located on public land, but some trails pass through or adjacent to private land. Respect the landowner’s rights and obey all signs regarding trail use.
Neither the authors, nor the publisher, nor anyone else mentioned in this book are responsible or liable in any way for any accident, injury or any action brought against anyone traveling any route listed in this book. All backcountry travelers and their companions assume responsibility for themselves. Explore at your own risk, and always tell somewhere where you are going and when you’ll be back.
If you require search and rescue services, it can be costly. Buy a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) card to protect yourself. Funds from the CORSAR program go into the Colorado Search and Rescue (SAR) Fund. If a CORSAR card holder becomes lost or injured in the backcountry, the Colorado SAR Fund pays eligible search and rescue expenses.
Silver Creek is a mellow road that follows picturesque Silver Creek near Marshall Pass. The road winds through pine forests along the small waterway and offers excellent views of Mount Antora (13,269 ft.). This is a good trail for people of all ability levels and a good option…
Monarch Crest Trail to South Fooses Creek is one of the best in the west – the Monarch Crest Trail snakes above treeline for many miles along the spine of the Continental Divide. The views are spectacular in all directions and give you a true feel for the backbone of the…
Old Monarch Pass (not Old Old Monarch Pass) was finished in 1922 as part of the “Rainbow Route”, a section of US 50 that stretched from Pueblo to Montrose and marketed as a continuation of the Santa Fe Trail. Due to heavy snow and sharp corners, the highway masters…
Monarch Park offers mellow terrain on Monarch Pass for skiers and snowshoers. This route follows a road parallel to the South Arkansas River that then curves up to the current Monarch Pass Road. Even in low snow years, you’ll find good snow at Monarch Park.
The Waterdog Lakes trail is short and steep, but worth the effort. On a clear day, the views of the Continental Divide and the glacial cirque where the lakes sit, are stunning. The trail winds through dense forest, with occasional views of Bald Mountain (12,858 ft.) and Banana…
The Lost Wonder Hut to Chalk Pass route follows Continental Divide Tail (CDT) up the Middle Fork of the South Arkansas River, from the Lost Wonder Hut to the top of Chalk Pass.
Middle Fork Creek to the Lost Wonder Hut starts in the small town of Garfield, this route follows a mining road along the path of Middle Fork Creek. The destination is the Lost Wonder Hut, the only mountain hut in the Lower Arkansas River Valley. The road climbs steeply in places…
Fooses Creek provides the closest good skiing to Salida with easy to access, gentle terrain. The route leads from just below Fooses Lake to the junction of North and South Fooses Creeks. The trail holds good snow for most of the winter and passes through forests of pine and open…
Raspberry Gulch drops from the heights of Mt. Antero (14,269 ft.) and this tour follows the road up the lower section of the gulch. The route crosses the Colorado Trail and winds through open meadows and huge aspen groves, climbing steadily but very gradually.
halk Cliffs to Cascade Falls is an old railroad grade hugs the north side of Chalk Creek Canyon, directly across from the imposing bulk of the Chalk Cliffs. It’s a gentle route that climbs slowly through forests, along the base of cliffs with perfect views of the peaks on…
Hancock Pass follows the old Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad grade from the ghost town of Saint Elmo to the turnoff for the Mary Murphy Mine/Pomeroy Gulch. The old railroad grade provides a gradual incline good for all ability levels and will probably be groomed or packed…
Cottonwood Lake to the Poplar Gulch Trail starts from the scenic little log cabins around Cottonwood Lake, this trail follows South Cottonwood Creek up Green Timber Gulch and into the mountains
Cottonwood Pass to the Ptarmigan Creek Road is a groomed trail wide as the summer highway and sometimes as smooth. This route offers a surface groomed by snowcat – very unique in the southern end of the valley.
Denny Creek to Hartenstein Lake climbs straight from Denny Creek up and up into the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area and a beautiful mountain basin. It’s one of the best tours in the valley. Hartenstein Lake sits a tad below treeline just east of the Continental Divide and…
South Fork Of Lake Creek starts at the La Plata Gulch Trailhead and goes up the broad basin of the South Fork of Lake Creek. Get ready for good views of La Plata Peak (14,361 ft.) and the famous jagged La Plata Ridge. The trail winds through the trees before entering an open…
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